My father used to say, Locks are for honest people. If a thief wanted to break in, no matter how many locks and bolts and chains and alarms you had, he would figure out a way. But an honest person sees a lock and is reminded not to enter.” Then he would sum up his instruction by saying, “If you can’t pay the time, don’t commit the crime. Honesty is the best policy.”
Those were high and noble ideas my father tried to instill in me in a down-to-earth way. I guess he knew from experience that it is easy to be less than honorable. In fact, in today’s society honesty demands a high price and seems to cost more than it is worth. “White lies,” which some people call “half truths,” are really half lies and therefore dishonest. Exaggerations are often the result of over-inflated egos wrongly protected. It costs something to be honest. It is often easier and more convenient to offer or accept a lie than it is to tell the truth.
A good example of this is the rejection of the gospel by some Jewish people. Many Jewish people do not want to believe the gospel, even though it is true. Believing the truth will cost them something, and they don’t want to pay the price. This is often true of non-Jews, and other circumstances as well.
Have you ever been in a store where either the cashier gave you too much change or did not charge you for an item? Then as you realized what had happened maybe you rationalized, “The extra dollar or two is not going to cost this big store anything, and perhaps it is the Lord’s way of blessing by providing extra money to give back to him.” We certainly ought to know that this is not the way God operates. That kind of rationale might seem acceptable and appropriate behavior to an unbeliever, but one who understands God’s standards from Scripture must know that it is wrong.
Recently I had occasion to contemplate this matter of truth and non-truths. As I was reading through the Scriptures, God impressed me from Deuteronomy 7:5 that Israel had been instructed upon entering the promised land to tear down the altars and smash the sacred pillars of the Canaanites. Perhaps I read too much into it and “spiritualized” it too much, but I connected the thought with the “altars” and “sacred pillars” that we have erected in our 20th century society, and how many of those “altars” and “pillars” violate the biblical principles of honesty and integrity.
Yeshua said that we believers are the light of the world, and woe unto us if we hide our lamps under a bushel basket. We certainly ought to be shining the rays of God’s truth, integrity, and honesty into the dark corners of our society, but it is not always convenient or easy. Often when we try to do the right thing, it leaves us open to ridicule and even suspicion.
For example, I experienced an incident in New York City recently that got me thinking about all this. I had made a rather large purchase (more than $160.00) at Zabar’s, a very large and well-known appetizer store on the Upper West Side. The purchase was for an event that Jews for Jesus was having. When I returned to our center with the food, I discovered that Zabar’s had charged us for only half of the order. Immediately one side of me began rejoicing as I thought about having received something for nothing. Inwardly I began to gloat about how I was going to benefit from their mistake. But those thoughts lasted only about two and a half seconds! It quickly occurred to me that not only was I wrong to entertain such thoughts, but it was a fantastic opportunity to give a word of story while being honest.
The next day I dropped by the store to show them their mistake. The man behind the counter could not believe that I had returned to pay the money I said we owed him. His first response was, “This can’t be. I have to check my records.” It seemed as if they did not want to be bothered by my honesty. It was becoming an embarrassment to them. It took the store more than a week before they would actually admit that they had made a mistake and that I could come by and pay them if I wanted to. Every time I called the store to straighten out the mistake I always ended by saying, “Jesus keeps me honest.” The bookkeeper actually told me one day that in all her years doing that kind of work she had never had anything like this happen to her.
Think about it! For $80.00 not only did I get the best bagels and lox in town, but I had an opportunity to witness and proclaim the gospel to several people in one of the largest appetizer stores in New York City. My father was right. Honesty is the best policy!
Editor’s Note: Baruch Goldstein does much more than quote his father and frequent delicatessens. He makes many visits to Jewish people and hands out thousands of tracts. This year he is the commander of our Summer Witnessing Campaign in New York.